0531 GMT April 26, 2018
Esteghlal of Iran secured first place in Group D with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal, thanks to Vouria Ghafouri's first-half goal on Matchday Six of the 2018 AFC Champions League on Monday.
Al Hilal started the brighter of the two sides however it was Esteghlal which took the lead against the run of play, following a defensive mistake by Saudi international Yasir al-Shahrani after he failed to clear the ball in the penalty area in front of Ghafouri, who fired a shot into the center of the net in the 36th minute, the-afc.com reported.
Seven minutes into the second half, Al Hilal almost levelled the score when Fallatah's shot hit the left post after a pass from Bencharaki.
Two minutes later, Ghafouri responded for the Iranian side, rocketing a ball from a narrow angle but his attempt was saved by goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Esteghlal's victory earned the Blues top spot in Group D with 12 points, while Al Ain finished as runner-up, two points behind.
Last year's runner-up Al Hilal ended their campaign bottom of the group with just two points.
Meanwhile, a third-minute goal was enough for Iran’s champion Persepolis to beat Al Sadd of Qatar 1-0, heading into the knockout stage as Group C winner.
Iranian international Morteza Pour-Ali-Ganji headed Mohammad Ansari’s cross into the back of his own net to give the Tehran giant an early lead.
Persepolis went through a nervy spell late in the game as the Qatari side, needing only a draw to top the group, desperately pushed for an equalizer with Algerian striker Baghdad Bounedjah hitting the crossbar with three minutes left on the clock.
Al Sadd’s manager Jesualdo Ferreira thought his side deserved to leave Tehran with more than just a defeat.
“Persepolis was a good team today and the atmosphere was great but we were the better side,” the 71-year-old said in the post-match press conference.
The Portuguese also believed some key refereeing decision cost his side, saying, “Our goal was wrongfully disallowed for offside and Persepolis captain should have been sent off for hand ball.”
Reds’ manager Branko Ivankovic, however, had other ideas.
“I can understand his frustration because they lost the game,” the Croatian said.
“We played with our hearts and truly deserved the victory.”
The only low point for Persepolis would be a second yellow card of the competition for Seyyed Jalal Hoseini which rules the Reds’ veteran skipper out of the last-16 first leg tie on May 7.